Felony Kidnapping Charges & Defenses

The federal crime of kidnapping is defined under the law as: “the seizure, transportation, and confinement of another person against their will.” Kidnapping is a federal offense under 18 U.S.C. § 1201, which outlines the criminal penalties and procedures involved in prosecuting individuals for this crime.


Kidnapping law prohibits and criminalizes various activities, including abducting or attempting to abduct another person and holding them for ransom, reward, or any other reason.

Kidnapping charges can also apply when a minor is involved, whether that child is related to the abductor or not. Those convicted of Federal kidnapping can face severe penalties, including significant jail time, fines, restitution, and parole or probation.


Moreover, many states have their own kidnapping laws, which may be more or less strict than the federal law. Therefore, it is essential to understand the complexities of the law of kidnapping and consult a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney if you face kidnapping charges. 


❗The U.S. Department of Justice report estimates that over 200,000 minors are kidnapped by family members each year. An estimated 58,200 are taken by non-family members, often with ill intent. These statistics underscore the urgency and relevance of our free consultation with an attorney.

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Understanding Kidnapping under 18 U.S.C. § 1201

The United States Code defines Title 18 Section 1201 for Kidnapping as the following, which we have summarized because they can be extremely confusing and overwhelming to understand.


  • Unlawful Actions: Seizing, confining, enticing, luring, abducting, or detaining another person for ransom or other purposes, with exceptions for parents of minors with legal custody rights.
  • Jurisdiction Criteria: If the act occurs across state lines or foreign borders, whether alive or deceased at the time, within special maritime, territorial, or aircraft jurisdiction of the U.S., or against specific protected individuals.
  • Protected Person: Jurisdiction may apply to an internationally protected person outside the United States if the victim represents the United States, the offender is a U.S. national, or the offender is later found within the United States. This subsection includes all territories under U.S. jurisdiction as outlined in sections 5, 7 of this title, and section 46501(2) of title 49, with the term "national of the United States" defined in section 101(a)(22) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(22)).
  • 24-Hour Rule: Failure to release the victim within 24 hours leads to a presumption of interstate or foreign transport but doesn't prevent immediate federal investigation.
  • Conspiracy and Attempt: Penalties for multiple individuals conspiring or attempting to violate the law, including imprisonment for varying terms.
  • International Scope: U.S. jurisdiction may extend to internationally protected persons outside the U.S. under certain conditions.
  • Enforcement Assistance: The Attorney General may request help from various agencies, including military, in enforcing the law, regardless of conflicting regulations.


While the above laws may seem straightforward, their interpretations can be complex.


For example, the phrase "interstate or foreign commerce" can include activities that might not seem evident at first glance, such as using a telephone or internet communication to facilitate the act of kidnapping.

Elements of a Kidnapping Offense: What the Prosecution Must Prove

In a federal kidnapping case, the prosecution is tasked with proving several key elements beyond a reasonable doubt.


These elements include the following:

  • The Physical Action

    An act of seizing, confining, kidnapping, abducting, or carrying away an individual.

  • The Intention Behind the Action

    The act was done knowingly and willingly.

  • Interstate or Federal Commerce

    The act involved interstate or foreign commerce or occurred within U.S. maritime or territorial jurisdiction.

It's important to note that the intent element is crucial in these cases. The prosecution must demonstrate that the defendant intended to hold the victim against their will, thereby effectively proving the intent to kidnap.

18 U.S.C. § 1201

Kidnapping under Arizona State Law vs. Federal Law

Kidnapping is generally charged as an Arizona state offense under ARS 13-1304. However, specific circumstances can elevate a kidnapping case to a federal level, subjecting the defendant to federal laws and penalties.


What Makes Kidnapping a Federal Charge?

Kidnapping becomes a federal charge when it involves elements that cross state lines or international borders, affects protected individuals, or utilizes federal facilities or jurisdictions. This elevates the crime from a state-level offense to one that falls under the jurisdiction of federal law, where it is then investigated and prosecuted by federal authorities. The factors that may make a kidnapping case a federal charge include:


  • Interstate or Foreign Transportation: If the victim is transported across state or international borders, or the offender uses any means, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce in committing or in furtherance of the commission of the offense.
  • Special Jurisdictional Areas: If the act against the victim occurs within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States or within the special aircraft jurisdiction as defined in federal law.
  • International Protection Status: If the victim is a foreign official, an internationally protected person, or an official guest, as defined in federal statutes.
  • Involvement of Federal Officers and Employees: If the act against the victim occurs while the person is engaged in, or on account of, the performance of official duties, and the person is among specific officers and employees described in federal law.
  • Use of Federal Communication Systems: If federal communication systems such as mail or other means of interstate communication are used in the commission of the crime.


Arizona laws can play a role in kidnapping cases when the victim of a kidnapping is a minor child of the parent. If a parent legally takes their child from one state to another or within the areas mentioned above, state laws and regulations may apply. However, there are certain stipulations that can apply and the accused may still face serious charges.

Understanding Arizona Penalties for Kidnapping

Navigating the complexities of the Arizona legal system can be challenging, especially when understanding the classifications and penalties for kidnapping offenses.


The following are the potential penalties one may face upon conviction:


  • The majority of kidnapping crimes are categorized as Class 2 felonies. The individual could face a prison sentence ranging from 10 to 20 years if found guilty.

  • There's a shift to a Class 4 felony if the accused willingly lets go of the 'victim,' ensuring they are unharmed and in a safe location before being arrested. The sentence for a Class 4 felony could extend to three years in prison.

  • An interesting aspect is when the victim is freed per an agreement with the state and found unharmed. In this situation, the offense gets classified as a Class 3 felony, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

  • If an individual is charged with kidnapping someone under 15, they face a Class 2 felony per ARS 13-705, Arizona's law concerning severe crimes against children, often referred to as "DCAC." This can result in a punishment of up to 24 years in state prison.

Federal Kidnapping Penalties

A kidnapping conviction can lead to severe penalties, which vary depending on the circumstances of the case and whether the conviction is at the state or federal level.


The potential consequences for a kidnapping offense are significantly influenced by the specific circumstances surrounding the crime and can be harsh.


Below, we break down the potential penalties as outlined under 18 U.S.C. 1201:


  • In general cases of federal kidnapping, the potential sentence can range from several years to maximum life in prison.
  • For an attempted kidnapping, the accused can face up to 20 years in prison.
  • Suppose multiple individuals conspire to carry out a federal kidnapping and actively work towards it. In that case, each person involved can be sentenced to life imprisonment, regardless of whether or not the kidnapping was successfully carried out.
  • In cases where the kidnapping results in the death of any individual, the law mandates either a life sentence or even the imposition of the death penalty.
federal criminal defense attorney

Defenses to Federal Kidnapping Charges: Exploring Your Legal Options

When facing a federal kidnapping charge, it's important to remember that you have legal options. An experienced federal criminal defense attorney can help develop a strategy to challenge the prosecution's case.


Potential defenses might include:


  • Challenging the elements of the crime: The prosecution must prove each element of the kidnapping beyond a reasonable doubt. The case could be dismissed if the defense successfully challenges these elements.
  • Consent: If the alleged victim consented to the supposed act of kidnapping, this could serve as a defense.
  • Jurisdiction: The federal court might lack jurisdiction if the alleged kidnapping did not cross state lines or involve federal commerce.

The Role of a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney in Kidnapping Cases

As serious as kidnapping charges are, hope is not lost. At Kolsrud Law Office, our federal criminal defense attorneys specialize in defending clients against kidnapping charges.


We understand the intricacies of Arizona state and federal law and have the experience and knowledge to fight for your rights.


Our role in your defense includes, but isn't limited to:


  • Evaluating your case: We thoroughly examine the facts and the prosecution's evidence to identify weaknesses in their case.
  • Building your defense: We work to develop a strategy tailored to your specific situation, utilizing defenses that are most likely to succeed.
  • Representing you in court: We stand by your side throughout the court process, advocating on your behalf.
  • Negotiating a plea deal or seeking reduced penalties: If it serves your best interests, we will negotiate with the prosecution to reduce your charges or penalties.

Facing Kidnapping Charges? The Kolsrud Law Office Can Help.

Kidnapping charges don't have to define your future. You can navigate the legal system and fight for a fair outcome with the right legal counsel.


Contact the Kolsrud Law Office today for a free consultation, and let us help you take the first step toward defending your freedom.

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